Grand Seiko and its Mastery of Dials

Grand Seiko and its Mastery of Dials

| 07.24.23

Every watch brand has its niche for which they are best known.

For some companies, it’s a complication — for others, a bracelet or case profile. For Grand Seiko — originally a high-end offering within the greater Seiko catalog, and since 2017, an independent company — it’s both case finishing and dial design. 

From the beautiful colors and textures of the Four Seasons collection to the simple, classic aesthetics of the Omiwatari model, G.S. is known for the attention to detail and inventiveness of its dials. 

Today, we’re going to dive deep into the vast array of dial finishes and colors that Grand Seiko has perfected. Once you’ve seen the diversity of their offerings, you’ll better understand the reason the brand is so unique within the watchmaking industry, and why it’s beloved by so many. 

The Four Seasons Collection

One of the best places to look for Grand Seiko’s dial diversity is the Four Seasons collection. Introduced to showcase the beauty of the changing of seasons in Japan, each model focuses on a distinct feature of Japanese culture and nature. To help communicate the feelings of the seasons, Grand Seiko developed a series of special dials with texture, depth, and vibrancy. 

Grand Seiko Heritage Spring Drive 62GS 'ShunBun'  - (Image by Grand Seiko)

Starting with the spring edition, G.S. wished to convey the blossoming of sakura flowers. These flowers have a pale pink complexion, and fall onto the surface of the water after blooming. The Grand Seiko SBGA413G, or ‘Spring Edition’ has an incredibly pale pink dial. In fact, many don’t even realize the dial is truly pink until they examine the watch up close.

G.S. has applied contrasting, subtle engraving on the surface of the dial that plays brilliantly with the light and reflects differently at varying angles. This surface tapestry is designed to resemble the three-dimensional quality of a flower petal, with its peaks and valleys and subtle undulation. Upon the textured surface, the brand has then set perfectly Zaratsu-polished indices that shine pristinely, which creates an interesting interplay between the textured dial and the smoothness of each index. The effect is scintillating in person, and rarely done justice even with excellent photography — you simply have to experience it for yourself to gain a true appreciation for its quality. 

Grand Seiko Heritage RIKKA Early Summer SBGH271 - (Image by Grand Seiko)

Following Spring, the ‘Summer Edition’ was designed to reflect the green of summer, as life begins to grow in the fields of the Japanese countryside. To communicate this aesthetic, Grand Seiko has made the dial of the ‘Summer Edition’ a rich green, with only faint indentations that are designed to reflect the movement of plants in the breeze. To contrast with the vivid green of the dial, Grand Seiko has paired it with a gold handset and indices. Once more, attention is paid to contrasting the finishing styles of the dial and hands. 

Grand Seiko Heritage Hi-Beat 'Shubun' Autumn Moonlight SBGH273 -(Image by Grand Seiko)

The ‘Autumn Edition’ has a dark blue dial, and is meant to celebrate the autumn equinox. Faint rippling on the dial landscape references the wispy clouds of the fall months. The applied Grand Seiko logo at 12 o’clock is made from gold and matches the color and composition of the second hand. This is a theme with many Grand Seiko pieces, where a seconds hand or logo (or both) are contrasted with the rest of the metal on the piece in order to accent that component or add visual intrigue. 

Grand Seiko Japan Seasons Special Edition The 'Taisetsu' Winter Snow Automatic Spring Drive 3-Day SBGA415 - (Image by Grand Seiko)

The same phenomenon is present on the Winter Edition. Here, a blued seconds hand contrasts with a pale, whitish-cream dial, which is designed to symbolize the snow on the pine trees of Japan during winter. Here, the logo at 12 o’clock contrasts with the other details to create a truly unique aesthetic. The dial of the Winter Edition is similar to that of the Spring Edition, with the exception that Spring is pink in hue, whereas Winter is finished in a paler, pearly white. 

Looking at the Four Seasons collection as a whole helps understand several of Grand Seiko’s core philosophical ideologies: Firstly, every watch contains a connection to its origins in Japan. These pieces symbolize key facets of Japanese culture and styling, which is not something we see often in the industry. We certainly see brands pay homage to their own history, but to reference the nature surrounding a manufacture's workshop is a very rare occurrence. 

Secondly, Grand Seiko seeks to add sophistication to its ideas through contrast. Contrasting surfaces, finishes, and colors are the primary ways the brand achieves this. On dials, it’s the contrast with indices or logo, as mentioned previously; for cases and bracelets, it’s the visual interplay between the Zaratsu polishing of the facets and the brushed surfaces of the body of the case. The result is a sharp appearance with elevated aesthetics and a premium feel. There’s a vibe that Grand Seiko watches project that is distinctly unique to the brand, regardless of your feelings toward it. Ultimately, G.S. effectively generates its own identity within an industry in which it’s easy to merely mimic the trends of others. 


Grand Seiko Elegance Spring Drive 'Omiwatari' - IN THE SHOP

Another tasteful example of the Grand Seiko philosophy is the Omiwatari. The Omiwatari was inspired by the frozen waters of Lake Suwa, a place that is held in high regard in Japanese lore and religious tradition. The undulating dial surface is a reminder of the waves of this inland sea, and the pale blue color references the reflection of the sky on the surface of the water. Looking at the dial surface from the side, it almost looks as though it is made from aluminum foil, with waves set in place on a metallic surface. While the main handset is executed in bare metal, a blued steel seconds hand ties the color scheme together when paired with a dark blue leather strap. 

This dial, like those of the Four Seasons, has a true three-dimensional quality to it that most conventional versions are lacking. There is certainly a beauty associated with a vintage, patinated dial, but on modern pieces, the face is generally but one component in the story of a timepiece. For Grand Seiko, the rest of the piece supports the story of the dial, which is like a painting framed by the case — a well chosen frame can complement the art, but usually it’s the art itself that captures the focus of the onlooker. Grand Seiko repeats a series of case and bracelet finishing styles, meaning that the case and bracelet play a secondary role in the identity of the watch. 

Rolex provides another illustration of this concept: The brand’s Oyster bracelet is a brilliant, enduring design, yet when multiple models feature the same case and bracelet, the dial becomes the watch’s defining element. A modern Oyster Perpetual and a Datejust with Oyster bracelets are very similar watches without considering dials; indeed, it’s the dial that ultimately established the identity of the timepiece. 

Grand Seiko Kira-Zuri Limited Edition

Grand Seiko Spring-Drive Kira-Zuri Limited Edition - IN THE SHOP

Next up is a limited edition from 2018 inspired by a Japanese painting technique called “Kira-zuri.” Like the Four Seasons collection, this collection was exclusively offered to the U.S. market. It’s quite nice to see the brand emphasizing its American audience so strongly, placing some of its greatest pieces within these exclusive lineups. 

Kira-zuri translates to “sparkling painting,” and this is exactly what the dial resembles, with a texture that looks almost like the first snowflakes that fall upon a surface, sort of crystalline in structure and delicate in appearance. Paired with contrasting, applied indices with Zaratsu-polished surfaces and given a matching wordmark and blued steel seconds hand, this design also features a handsomely framed date window at 3 o’clock and a power reserve indicator at 7:30 whose color scheme blends with that of the dial. 

The Kira-zuri aesthetic was featured throughout the collection, with some watches appearing on straps and some on bracelets. The case is quite angular and the facets of the side profile have been exaggerated to play a much larger role in the design. Compared to some of the other offerings from Grand Seiko, the ratio of case to bezel sizing leans much further towards a minimal bezel and a maximized case. 

Elegance Collection SBGK005 Limited Edition

Grand Seiko Elegance Limited Edition

An entirely different dial design that is mimicked on several exclusive pieces is exemplified by the Elegance Collection’s Reference SBGK005 Limited Edition. This radial sunburst effect looks sort of like the retina of an eye, fixated at a point at the center and sunraying out to the perimeter of the dial. In this case, the design is executed in a deep blue and accented by a blue alligator strap. 

Balanced on both sides of the dial are the subsidiary seconds and the power reserve indicator. The handset on this watch is also quite beautiful, dauphine-shaped with brushed top surfaces and mirror-polished facets. The SBGK005 has a cushion-style case, which causes it to wear a bit larger than its size immediately suggests. That said, this watch is also hand-wound, whereas most of their mechanical watches are automatic — an important detail. This allowed the brand to preserve a thinner case profile, which complements the graceful aesthetics of the watch, and those of the broader Elegance collection.

Looking at the strap/dial combo, you will notice another detail common to Grand Seiko: The brand tries to match its straps to its dials not only from a coloring standpoint, but equally importantly, in the size of the scales. On the SBGK005, which has a tight dial graining, the strap has much more densely-concentrated scales. A large-scaled strap would have looked mismatched with the dial. It is much easier to notice this when it is done wrong than to pick up on the fact that it has been done correctly. Grand Seiko hit the nail on the head with this one. 

What These Dial Finishes Say About Grand Seiko 

Grand Seiko Available at Analog:Shift HQ - IN THE SHOP

There are dozens of other G.S. pieces with their own charm and dial idiosyncrasies, but this assemblage of pieces provides some context into the world of Grand Seiko. Across each of these models, the brand has employed different techniques to provide unique designs for its collectors.

A watch is an incredibly difficult object to execute properly. It takes years to develop and refine a design before one should ever grace a wrist. On top of the R&D associated with creating any timepiece, Grand Seiko hyper-focuses on small details that demand further focus and attention from the brand before they can ever impress a client or collector. 

Grand Seiko is not a brand for everyone — indeed, it’s almost comical to see just how divided collectors can get over these watches. That said, this is the price that the Japanese marque pays for being innovative. Rather than conforming to the staid aesthetics of standard watchmaking, Grand Seiko embraces the controversy and distinguishes itself as a company with a mission.

Thus, whether Grand Seiko will make its way into your watch box or not, it deserves (in our humble opinion) your respect, if not your admiration. While no Grand Seiko model is affordable in the manner of many ‘microbrand’ watches, when analyzing similar offerings at these price points, G.S. provides truly stellar value. (Think about watches that offer similar feature sets — stunning dials, excellent case architecture, etc. — yet retail for 10x!) 

G.S. does not upcharge for its premium design; rather, their positioning and proliferation seem to indicate that their goal is to create an ultra high-end piece and render it as available as possible to as many enthusiasts as possible. What’s objectively wonderful about this is that clients looking for something special are given numerous standout options — often for well under $10,000 — that are fairly readily available. 

Grand Seiko doesn’t seem to be slowing down its development either. Each year, new dial finishes, textures, colors, and executions are presented to the global market. To add a level of exclusivity without dramatically raising prices, we often see limited and special editions such as the ones described above. These sometimes take the form of regional limited editions such as the Four Seasons, which were only available in the U.S, or a piece limited by number ranging from extremely small production runs to those in the thousands. No matter your preference, there is a level of selection and exclusivity catered to your interest. 

If there’s one way to describe Grand Seiko, it's as a disruptor. As the Japanese brand in a room full of Swiss legends, G.S. was an outsider of sorts straight from their beginning. Rather than shirking into a corner, Grand Seiko proudly embraced this identity and leaned further into its heritage and history, firmly asserting that it deserves a seat at the table.

Years later, at Analog:Shift, we feel that Grand Seiko has proven it has earned that seat.